Lesson Learned: Alice Weightman, CEO, Hanson Search

We launch our Lessons Learned series with Alice Weightman, CEO and Founder of Hanson Search. Alice shares her career highlights, the important lessons she has learnt and provides an insight into the future of the working environment. Alice Weightman

Can you briefly share your professional journey which has led you to your role now?

Like many people, I fell into the world of headhunting. After carefully diverting off a career as a lawyer, I fled to India and ended up launching a loungewear business with two other partners – my cousin Astrid, which helped to form the name Alice and Astrid and our business partner in India – Manoj – who had a fantastic high-end factory in Delhi. We launched it with the help of a Princesses Trust grant and in six months we were selling to Harrods, Harvey Nics and Liberty!

After a couple of years of hard slog, I realised I needed to work in an industry that was a little faster paced, lead times were around 18 months and we really needed more than a Princesses Trust grant to super charge the business. I was introduced to a recruitment company JPA – who asked me to join them. I recall asking my trainer at the time, the fabulous Roy Ripper, how I could become the best recruiter and I still remember his advice to this day – you need to specialise, and you need to become a headhunter!

Fast forward, I went on to launch Hanson Search, a global headhunting business specialising in communications and marketing and then about five years ago launched The Work Crowd, an online technology platform that connects businesses directly with talented freelancers in communications and marketing and has a growing community of over 6000 freelancers.

What has been your career highlight?

I attended a networking event with a candidate I placed about five years ago, he introduced me to his friend as the person that had helped transform his life – I recruited him into a role that enabled him to go on and really reach his potential – this is now part of Hanson Search’s value proposition – Building Businesses and Transforming Lives.

Also, the day I won Entrepreneur of the Year at the FSB awards was incredible –– it was on the back of launching The Work Crowd – an initiative platform that helps business to connect with talent freelancers in marketing and communications. I did have imposter syndrome about it for a good few months after though.

Who has been impacted by the COVID pandemic the most in the working environment?

It has been tough on everyone – working parents, especially mothers of young children have had so much to juggle with home schooling. Many businesses have been very understanding, but some have not, and we have lost some great senior women from the industry who have simply had enough.

Also, those early on in their career – socialising and meeting up with friends at work is as much a part of a working day, as the work itself is. It is hard to properly learn and grow while working remotely – you can do the job, but you don’t learn at the same rate. Companies have been incredibly imaginative at coming up with new ideas and ways to learn and share experiences, but it’s much harder at the junior end to do this, as a result companies can be reluctant to hire at the junior end and it’s much harder for new people coming into the job market– it will have a knock on effect in a few years’ when there is a lack of good AMs, because there wasn’t enough going in at the bottom.

How do you think the future of work will evolve over the next three-five years?

It will be interesting to see if we take lessons from the pandemic and build a lasting working environment that is much more flexible and therefore inclusive to many people who simply can not conform to the traditional 9am-6pm working patterns in an office.

I hope in three years we have not forgotten the lesson; this new way of working will help to create a much more level playing field for working mothers, who tend to take on the lion share of family duties and for some disabled communities who struggle going to an office daily.

Business structures will also change – it will be less about managing people and more about empowering and trusting individuals to be successful in their roles – wherever they can do them – so giving people greater choice and with that comes responsibility.  Measurement will be on outcomes and not the days you are seen. Benefit packages will evolve to be less focussed around the office and more about mental health and wellbeing.

I also think we will continue to see the rise in the professional freelance community, McKinsey did some research that said 70% of executives were more likely to use freelancers post the pandemic than they would have before and we are seeing that on The Work Crowd with the rise in projects posted.

What important lessons have you learnt throughout your career?

Life is full of highs and lows – you need both to enjoy the excitement and learn valuable lessons from the lows, I see them now as learning rather than a frustration. With the highs, do not get complacent and lows – well the only way is up.

What skill sets do you think businesses within the communications industry will be looking for in the coming year?

Flexibility, accountability, and a self-starting attitude are all going to be key for most roles in the modern working world. With many businesses opting for a totally remote workforce or a hybrid model these characteristics are going to prevail as a necessity.  

What is the best advice you ever received?

Don’t look back and “shy bairns get nowt” those from the north will get the last one! Both are from my father!

What are your company’s objectives for Diversity and Inclusion?

One of our key objectives for 2021 is to help change the face of the industry – I think recruiters have an important role in this – to work collaboratively to help clients hire from a diverse range of candidates and make positive steps across all areas of diversity. We have some great initiatives that we will be doing this year with our newly appointed Head of Diversity Board, Ebony Gayle.

You can learn more about our diversity pledge here.

What do you think companies within communications can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the workplace?

I really do feel there is a genuine desire to bring about change in most businesses today, and since I started recruiting in the industry 20 years ago the conversations around diversity are much more prominent. However, it is time to move on from conversations and start taking real action.  Businesses need to think about their future pipeline of talent – actively attracting a more diverse work force from junior to senior roles and creating an environment that retains and makes people from different backgrounds feel included.

Posted on 08.04.2021

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